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September 29, 2023

Firefighters overwhelmed by gratitude

In the minds of firefighters, the Croy fire will go down as one
for the records. Not for the size of the fire
– they routinely fight bigger ones – but for the outpouring of
community support and gratitude.
In the minds of firefighters, the Croy fire will go down as one for the records. Not for the size of the fire – they routinely fight bigger ones – but for the outpouring of community support and gratitude.

As pick-up trucks and vans filled with food rolled up to the barricades of their Christmas Hill Park base camp in Gilroy, the firefighters were dumbfounded.

“I’ve been doing this 28 years and I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Capt. David Jones, whose job with the California Department of Forestry requires turning out 6,500 meals a day.

“Businesses usually increase the prices when we come to town,” said Welton Hershberger, a firefighter from Redding. “This means a lot.”

The caravans of food appeared to be spontaneous and unconnected, said Jones.

The firefighters remember the unidentified woman who brought enough homemade stew to feed 150 of them. In unison they agree, “That was tasty. Yes, that was real gourmet fare.”

There were children who deeply touched their hearts. Six students from P.A. Walsh Elementary in Morgan Hill and their parents brought 100 pounds of ice cream and served it. Forty-five students from Gilroy High’s sports medicine class filled six tables with baked goods.

The quantities of donated food were unexpected. Forestry department workers asked the students of Morgan Hill Country School to bring their baked good donations to the Morgan Hill facility so firefighters could take them to the Gilroy camp.

“You’ll need a truck,” warned school parent Tracee Gluhaich of San Martin.

When parents and students were met by a man with a small hand truck cart, everyone got a good chuckle.

“Oh, you don’t understand,” laughed Gluhaich, waving toward her accompanying parade of six SUV’s loaded with 150 platefuls of cookies, brownies, cakes and pies.

Children also brought letters and signs that were posted near the food areas. Briana Foreman, 8, of Gilroy, spelled out the word “F-I-R-E-F-I-G-H-T-E-R” as “Friendly, Information, Rescue, Excellent, Fight, Interesting, Great, Hero, Triumphant, Engine, Respect.”

Low-risk correctional inmates, who receive specialized training and $1 per hour for fighting blazes, paused at the display during chow time. Looking over a crayon drawing of a fireman, one said, “Makes our day.”

The very long list of contributors included individuals, schools and businesses. Linda Roma of Morgan Hill dropped off 50 cases of produce. Eagle Ridge Golf Club in Gilroy sent a pick-up truck filled with food and beverages. Jim and Gina Billings of San Martin made 150 burritos at home, and then went in to Morgan Hill to solicit another 100 from Super Taqueria and enchiladas from Las Palmas restaurants. Starbucks in Gilroy Town Center donated ground coffee to the base camp, then for five days in the store brewed up any beverage of choice for firefighters.

Beyond base camp, the show of community appreciation could be seen in the streets all the way to the fire barriers. People stood along highways with signs such as “Thank you for saving our houses.”

Reminiscent of the aftermath of Sept. 11, makeshift signs hung from telephone poles and were staked into the ground. Someone used white shoe polish to write a message on the back window of a sedan parked on Uvas Road: “Thank U Everyone.”

“The outpouring of this community with thoughts, wishes, prayers, food and thank-you notes has been awesome,” said Es Berliner, a fire prevention specialist from San Luis Obisbo.

Churches offered prayers, and the Morgan Hill Rotary started its regular meeting with an invocation for the safety of the firefighters.

Individuals and agencies volunteered temporary homes for displaced dogs, pigs, cockatiels and horses. At the Humane Society of Santa Clara Valley, Beth Ward reported that the offers to help and homes available exceeded the number of animals needing shelter.

“It was the highest level of support I have seen in 30 years on the job,” said CDF Fire Chief Steven F. Woodill, who heads the five-county Santa Clara Unit. However, as a resident of San Juan Bautista, he isn’t surprised.

“This is one big community,” he said.

Cooperation extended to the official levels of the city, county and state, according to Woodill.

“No one asked, ‘How long are you going to be here?’ They asked, ‘What do you need?'”

Looking ahead, Woodill said the need for community support will continue long after the fires die. He said anxiety and awareness about fires in Santa Clara County would be higher next year, like it is in Contra Costa and other counties that have experienced more fires.

The next major challenge is likely to be flood issues related to erosion, said Woodill. The fire and it aftermath “will be with this community for a couple of years.”

Staff Report
A staff member wrote, edited or posted this article, which may include information provided by one or more third parties.

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